Sometime guest-blogger Ed Philp has a neat sneak preview of the movie sensation of the year in the US which will probably be the movie sensation of the year in Germany soon:
Hi, it’s Ed Philp, gratefully guest-blogging for a “Retourkutsche” post (is there an equivalent word in English?). Germany needs to prepare itself for the next installment of verifiably non-European teenage entertainment that is about to arrive at cinemas throughout the country, namely, the movie version of the bestselling book “The Hunger Games”, or “Panem” for the German version.
The Hunger Games is a quintessentially American teenager book (yes, I am aware that the Japanese Battle Royale preceded it). It posits a dystopian future in which – as a result of various events – the US is divided into various districts and the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol organizes “Hunger Games” in which teenage participants fight to the death until there is one survivor, egged on by millions of (semi-compelled) viewers. US entertainment has a very long tradition in this genre; Blade Runner, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and many others. What makes The Hunger Games somewhat unique?
It is pitched to teenagers, involves virtually no sex among 17 year old protagonists (if I recall, the heroine of the book had never kissed anyone before being drafted into the Games, and then did it only under duress for various complicated survival reasons), and includes remarkable levels of violence. Poisoning, knifing, spear-throwing, animal mauling and several explosive endings all play a role in ensuring that the final couple make it the end of the Games. Sound a little bit familiar? It’s Twilight on steroids (chaste love story that otherwise features dismemberment, murder, the walking dead and pledges of love “to the death”).
The book leaves various components of the story open: We are provided in the book with remarkably little information on the protagonists, Katniss and Peeta, except that one has “breasts” (mentioned once during the book) and one has blond wavy hair and is strong and compact, like all bakers. The film fills in these details, of course casting exceptionally good looking people in the roles. The sexual tension/pitch will be immediately evident just based on the trailer. These two perfect examples of teenage male and female will ultimately get together and… produce babies (which is indeed how the whole Hunger Games series ends). In the meantime, wholesale slaughter will ensue. Once again, it is remarkable how US culture shuns natural sexual relations while placing a premium on ultraviolence. The entire Hunger Games book turns on the various vivid ways in which people die, have died, will die.
I imagine that The Hunger Games will be avidly watched in the US, and I somehow suspect that it will make particular inroads in various conservative districts. What story could be more compelling in an election year – an essentially fascist Capitol holds an honest, simple and hardworking (largely agrarian and trade-oriented) District population in bondage, forcing them to serve up their prime and innocent youth for the spectacle of the elite masses each year. The only social construct on which one can have any reliance is family and maybe friends. Homespun regional traditions and icons loom large as symbols of resistance to the Capitol. Individual resourcefulness and essentially god-given luck play a role, as do cunning, Teamwork and social collaboration are paths to doom. Individual sacrifice is accorded its due, but collective sacrifice is never an option. Those closest to the ground (who know how to hunt birds with a bow and arrow) are of course the best off, since guns have – of course – been confiscated and prohibited. Other nations and a global economy do not exist in the storyline. In numerous instances, salvation – coming from the sky – is provided through essentially capitalist elements, namely sponsorship by donors. Private charity is key to those in dire circumstances; public welfare does not exist. The “public” and the state are, as a whole, the enemy.
I’ll be extremely interested to see the German reaction to this most American of movies. I, for one, have already reserved tickets. This will be a small cultural icon, and I want to see how it is received here.
As for me, I have remained completely ignorant of the HG hype up to now, not out of any aversion, but just because I like to see movies completely, stone-cold ignorant of everything about them. In fact, for precisely this reason, I didn't even read Ed's review, so I hope he didn't anything defamatory in there…